Pushmataha County, Oklahoma
|Pushmataha County, Oklahoma|
Location in the state of Oklahoma
Oklahoma's location in the U.S.
1,423 sq mi (3,686 km²)
1,397 sq mi (3,618 km²)
25 sq mi (65 km²), 1.79%
7.9/sq mi (3/km²)
Pushmataha County is a county located in the U.S. state of Oklahoma. As of the 2010 census, the populatiom was 11,572, an 0.8 percent decrease from 11,667 at the 2000 census. Its county seat is Antlers.
Chief Pushmataha, 1824. From History of the Indian Tribes of North America.
- Ca. 1000-1500: Caddoan Mississippian civilization at Spiro Mounds
- 1492-1718: Spain
- 1718-1763: France
- 1763-1800: Spain
- 1800-1803: France
- 1803–present: United States
- 1824-1825: Miller County, Arkansas Territory (eastern portion of the county)
- 1825-1907: Choctaw Nation of Indian Territory
- 1907-present: State of Oklahoma
Prehistory and Exploration
During prehistoric times Pushmataha County was the home during the Middle Woodland period of the Fourche Maline culture. Over time, and possibly through contact with the Middle Mississippian culture to their northeast, the Fourche Maline became the Caddoan Mississippian culture. One of their most impressive sites was at Spiro Mounds, near Spiro, Oklahoma, whose trade territory easily encompassed the full extent of the Kiamichi River and Little River valleys.
North America’s history changed forever in 1492 with the arrival of Europeans under Christopher Columbus. Within decades European explorers were ranging wide and far across the North American interior, seeking fame, treasures, and conquests on behalf of their empires.
France’s Bernard de la Harpe explored the area of the modern Pushmataha County in 1719. New Orleans was founded the year before, and with de la Harpe’s exploration France was making an imperial thrust into the Mississippi River valley seeking trade with the native peoples and also a route to New Mexico. After this time France claimed this region of North America.
The area that became Pushmataha County was bought by the United States with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
The first American explorer to set foot in the modern county was Major Stephen H. Long in 1817. He was followed in 1819 by Thomas Nuttall, a scientist. Both explored the Kiamichi River valley, which Nuttall described in detail.
The Red River became an international boundary in 1819 when the United States concluded the Adams-Onis Treaty with the Spanish Empire. Fortifying the frontier from Spanish incursion, and securing it against potential uprisings by American Indians, was important to United States policy, and it established a chain of forts along its southern border.
Fort Towson, established at the mouth of Gates Creek on the Kiamichi River, just upstream from its confluence with the Red River, was charged with providing security for the region encompassing modern Pushmataha County. Established as it was in wilderness, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed a military road connecting Fort Towson with Fort Smith, Arkansas for purposes of supply and provision. Its route took it through the Little River valley, and was Pushmataha County’s first modern roadway. It lapsed into disuse after Fort Towson was abandoned after the American Civil War. Traces of it may still be seen.
The Indian Territory
The Choctaw territory comprising the modern county was, until statehood in 1907, divided among two of the three administrative districts, or regions, comprising the nation – Pushmataha and Apukshunnubbee. Each of these districts was subdivided into counties. The modern county fell within Cedar County, Nashoba County and Wade County of the Apukshunnubbee District—today the county’s eastern area – and Jack’s Fork County and Kiamitia County (Kiamichi County) of the Pushmataha District – today the county’s western area.
The War Between the States
During the American Civil War federal troops withdrew from the Indian Territory and the Choctaw Nation allied itself with the Confederate States of America. The Choctaw government sent a representative to the Confederate Congress, meeting in the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia, and raised battalions of warriors to participate with Confederate troops.
Although no battles were recorded as occurring within the present-day confines of Pushmataha County, the Battle of Perryville occurred just outside modern-day McAlester and the Battle of Middle Boggy Depot took place outside present-day Atoka. Numerous Choctaws left their homes in the present-day county to join the battalions and participated in the Battle of Pea Ridge, in Arkansas, and at the Battle of Honey Springs in the Cherokee Nation, which pitted them against a Unionist faction of Cherokee Indians.
Contemporary accounts make mention of many refugees streaming through the Kiamichi River valley. The war itself finally ended with the surrender of the last Confederate army—Cherokee General Stand Watie's forces, who surrendered at Fort Towson in June 1865, over two months after General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia -- and with it any chance of Confederate success.
|"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"|
Page from The Jubilee Singers, 1873.
|Written by||Wallace Willis|
|Written||Prior to 1862|
|Original artist||Fisk Jubilee Singers
Sometime before 1862 a Negro slave, Wallace Willis, composed the Negro spiritual "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot". He did so while working at Spencer Academy, a Choctaw Nation boarding school located at Spencervile, Indian Territory. The site of the academy and old Spencerville was located less than 1,000 yards from the current southern border of Pushmataha County, and it is entirely possible Uncle Wallace resided in Pushmataha County. He died in present-day Atoka County and is buried in an unmarked grave.
Railroad through the Wilderness
The Choctaw people were sedentary. Their lives were tied to their farms and small acreages. The Choctaw Nation was not home to industry of any sort. As a result the territory comprising modern-day Pushmataha County was still virgin wilderness decades after the Choctaws’ arrival.
This changed during the 1880s when the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad – popularly known as the Frisco—built a line from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Paris, Texas. Station stops were established every few miles, both to aid in opening the land and also to serve the railroad.
The Frisco’s route took it down the Kiamichi River valley, entering the present-day county near Albion and leaving the river only at Antlers, to skirt the massive bluff on which it sits.
With the railroad came civilization, and concrete ties to the outside world. The telegraph came hand-in-hand with the railroad, providing instantaneous news of events outside the Choctaw Nation.
Logging companies opened operations immediately. Rough-and-tumble sawmill communities began growing up around the railroad station stops. Kosoma, a veritable boomtown, boasted several hotels, doctors’ offices, and general stores during its heyday.
During the next few decades loggers harvested the entire region, using the railroad stations as transshipment points. These transshipment points grew into the present-day communities of Albion, Moyers, and Antlers. Other communities along the railroad between these points later vanished or are today only place names, such as Kellond, Stanley and Kiamichi.
For decades the Frisco constituted the greatest feat of engineering and manmade structure in Pushmataha County. Huge amounts of earth were moved and shaped to form its elevated roadbed, and numerous wooden trestles were constructed over creeks and rivers. Once in place the railroad enabled commerce and industry. And that interested the white men in the Indian Territory.
A Bid for Self-Determination
Although the Five Civilized Tribes of the Indian Territory opposed their incorporation within an American state, by the turn of the Twentieth Century statehood of some sort appeared inevitable. A group of leaders from all five nations – Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole – met at Muskogee in an attempt to seize the initiative and fashion a state of the Indian Territory. Their meeting, which came to be known as the Sequoyah Constitutional Convention, established the proposed State of Sequoyah.
The leaders meeting in Muskogee recognized that the counties of the Choctaw Nation, drawn to reflect easily recognizable natural landmarks such as mountain ranges and rivers, were not economically viable. Jack’s Fork County, as example – in which Antlers was located – was a vast territory whose tiny county seat was Many Springs (modern-day Daisy, Oklahoma). But the only commercially successful town within its boundaries was Antlers, and it was situated in its far southeastern corner.
County boundaries for the new State of Sequoyah were carefully crafted to take into account the existing towns and the range of their commercial interests. County seats were centered geographically amidst the populations of the areas they would govern.
The area comprising modern-day Pushmataha County, Oklahoma proved a particular challenge. Huge areas of its east were virtually empty of people. Its population was centered in towns along the railroad in the Kiamichi River valley. A county was eventually drawn with the crescent of the Kiamichi River valley forming its commercial heart, and it was to be called Pushmataha County, Sequoyah.
Records of the Sequoyah Constitutional Convention’s committee on counties are lost, and no evidence remains to document the committee’s deliberations. It is clear they wished to continue the Choctaw Nation’s legacy of naming an area after the revered Chief Pushmataha, and singled out the future Pushmataha County, Sequoyah for this honor.
Then, as now, Hugo’s businesses served an area extending as far north as Kent, Speer, Hamden, and nearly to Rattan. As a result, the county boundary for the proposed Hitchcock County – with Hugo as county seat – was established along the line of the existing boundary between Choctaw and Pushmataha counties. Similar considerations governed the establishment of the county’s northern, eastern and western borders.
The United States Congress failed to admit the proposed State of Sequoyah into the Union, preferring instead to await a possible federation of the Indian Territory and Territory of Oklahoma. This was soon proposed, and in 1907 the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention met in Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory to create the new State of Oklahoma. During these deliberations it became clear that the work of the Sequoyah Constitutional Convention had been groundbreaking: the Guthrie meeting essentially adopted almost exactly the same boundaries for Pushmataha County, Oklahoma as were proposed earlier for Sequoyah, again identifying Antlers as county seat.
Pushmataha County, at statehood, was considered an agricultural paradise. Local residents believed the soil to be fertile and the weather enviable and moderate… such that almost any fruit or vegetable could be grown. Most residents at the time were farmers, and lived off their land.
Cotton was king, for the county’s first few decades. It was grown throughout the Kiamichi River valley. Growers hauled it into Antlers, Clayton, Albion, and other places to be weighed, and shipped away to distant markets on the Frisco Railroad.
Many of the farmers or hired hands were Negroes, as African-Americans were called. The county had a significant African-American population, although this has since dwindled to almost nothing. Many made their living raising cotton, and after cotton’s decline they moved elsewhere in search of other work.
The territory comprising Pushmataha County, as it was inherited from the Choctaw Nation, was almost completely unimproved. Because the Choctaw government owned land in “severalty”, or common, and individuals did not—and because most Choctaws were a sedentary people who did not engage in industry or commerce—no bridges had been built; no road had been improved; and no public works of any kind existed.
Early business leaders immediately sought to fund public improvements by asking voters to pass bonds. Early attempts were made to pass bridge bonds, as example, to build bridges across the Kiamichi River and Jack Fork Creek. These uniformly failed, slowing the county’s development. Choctaw County, Oklahoma, by contrast, passed bonds almost immediately causing bridges to be built throughout the county. This proved excellent for business and commerce, and after this point Hugo grew significantly faster than Antlers.
Despite these setbacks, however, Pushmataha County grew in a healthy manner. People settled and founded communities throughout the county. Each community built its own school, and raised money with which to hire a teacher or teachers. Churches were also established. Some of the more significant communities, such as Jumbo, Moyers, Clayton and Albion, also established cultural leagues or institutions—poetry clubs, music groups, and literary societies – in a bid to be culturally couth. Choctaw Indians continued playing a role in the region, contributing numerous elected officials and other government and society leaders in Pushmataha County. During World War I a Choctaw soldier in the U.S. Army, Tobias W. Frazier, a member of the famous Choctaw Code Talkers, was a county resident. Others were from just over the border in McCurtain County. The fourteen soldiers pioneered the use of American Indian languages as military code during war, bringing World War I to a quicker close.
The 1930s saw a lasting change across the county: the federal Works Progress Administration (or WPA), established in response to the Great Depression, built handsome, study schools and school gymnasiums in numerous communities across the county. The new buildings were always built of native “red rock” gathered in nearby fields. They aged very well, and several are still in use, notably in Moyers, Rattan and Antlers. The school at Jumbo was bulldozed by a local farmer in the 1990s to clear the field for cattle.
Another lasting change resulted from another Great Depression-era innovation, the Rural Electrification Administration. Under guidance and funding by the REA, electrical lines were strung throughout Pushmataha County, connecting homes to the electrical grid. The changes caused by electrification are hard to measure. But it is safe to say the entire social life changed as social activities moved from outdoors and downtowns to the indoors, which increasingly were artificially cooled by air conditioning and enlivened by television. Even architecture changed, as stores, churches and homes no longer were designed to allow for maximum ventilation via the free flow of air from open windows and doors.
Highway came to be paved and standardized in the 1950s, causing transportation to be made easy and linking farms and countryside to the towns, and the towns to one another. The timing was fortunate, as the Frisco Railroad ceased passenger operations in the late 1950s and freight operations followed in the early 1980s. At that time the trestles were dismantled, rails removed and its roadbed was abandoned to nature.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 3,685 km² (1,423 mi²). 3,619 km² (1,397 mi²) of it is land and 66 km² (25 mi²) of it (1.79%) is water.
- Latimer County (north)
- Le Flore County (northeast)
- McCurtain County (east)
- Choctaw County (south)
- Atoka County (west)
- Pittsburg County (northwest)
Most of Pushmataha County is mountainous, with the exception of a relatively flat agricultural belt along the county’s southern border. The Kiamichi River valley forms a crescent through the county from northeast to southwest, and most of the human habitation has occurred inside this crescent.
The Kiamichi Mountains, a sub-range of the Ouachita Mountains, occupy most of the land in the county. This mountain chain has never been formally defined, nor have its neighboring mountain chains, such as the Winding Stair Mountains to the county’s north or the Bok Tuklo Mountains to its east. The Kiamichi Mountains range to a height of approximately 1,650 feet (500 m) in the county. Many of its summits are not in the classical, conical shape but rather are long furrows. The mountains are difficult for roads to penetrate, and large areas of the county are virtually empty of population.
Two rivers, the Kiamichi and Little River, flow through the county with their numerous tributaries. Sardis Lake, a flood control facility in the northeastern part of the county, impounds the waters of Jack Fork Creek. Hugo Lake, in Choctaw County, provides a similar function on the main stem of the river. It backs up the Kiamichi River northward into the county. Smaller impoundments include Clayton Lake, Nanih Waiyah Lake, Ozzie Cobb Lake and Pine Creek Lake.
Major tributaries of the Kiamichi River include Jack Fork Creek, Buck Creek, and Ten Mile Creek. Black Fork Creek and Pine Creek are the most significant tributaries of Little River.
|Pushmataha County, Oklahoma|
Sardis Lake and Dam
Two areas designated for wildlife management by the State of Oklahoma may be found in the county: the Pine Creek Wildlife Management Area, in the southeastern part of the county adjacent to Pine Creek Lake, and the Pushmataha Wildlife Management Area, near Clayton. Both areas are scientifically managed, and a multi-year research project regarding species management is underway in the Pushmataha Wildlife Management Area.
Interesting geographical features in the county include Rock Town, a small region of distinctive boulders in Johns Valley; Umbrella Rock near Clayton; McKinley Rocks near Tuskahoma; and the Potato Hills—unusually serrated landforms near Tuskahoma.
Pushmataha County has always been separated economically from the rest of Oklahoma by what the economists call the “Ouachita barrier”. The Kiamichi Mountains and the mountains to the north of them, all subranges of the Ouachita Mountains, cause commerce with points to their north to be difficult. McAlester, Oklahoma, instead of being a regional trading center for Pushmataha County, instead seems very remote from it.
When the nation’s Federal Reserve System was established in 1911 and the country was divided into regional federal reserve districts, Pushmataha, Choctaw and McCurtain counties all fell within the jurisdiction of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank and its regional district. The rest of Oklahoma falls within the jurisdiction of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank and its regional district. This dichotomy was due to what economists realized then, and remains the case—the county’s economic lifelines lie to its south.
Natural resources have always been the lifeblood of Pushmataha County.
The county is one of few in Oklahoma in which the petroleum industry does not, and has never had, a major presence drilling for oil. During recent years extraction companies have drilled successfully for natural gas, and this is increasingly common.
During the later days of the Indian Territory and early statehood asphalt was mined at two locations: Jumbo and Sardis. For a time these were economically successful, even at Jumbo, which experienced a catastrophic mine explosion in 1910 which killed numerous miners.
Timber is an economic mainstay. Lumber companies own large swaths of the county and operate vast tree plantations. Fast-growing pine trees are the timber of choice, and in many areas of the county a virtual monoculture of pine trees—at the expense of any other—has been established.
During the Twentieth Century a rapidly improving transportation network enabled Pushmataha County to advance economically. At this writing one federal highway and several state highways are in operation. In addition, the Indian Nation Turnpike, a four-lane turnpike constructed to national interstate highway standards, is in operation with interchanges at Antlers and Daisy. The highways:
- Indian Nation Turnpike (Antlers)
- Oklahoma State Highway 2 (Antlers, Kellond, Moyers, Kosoma, Dunbar, Clayton)
- Oklahoma State Highway 3 (Darwin, Antlers, Rattan, Oleta, Corinne)
- Oklahoma State Highway 43 (Adel, Clayton)
- Oklahoma State Highway 93 (Rattan, Hugo)
- Oklahoma State Highway 144 (Albion, Nolia, Fewell, Honobia)
- U.S. Highway 271 (Antlers, Finley, Snow, Nashoba, Clayton, Tuskahoma, Albion)
Pushmataha County, located at the heart of “Tornado Alley”, has a sometimes turbulent and often capricious climate.
High temperatures range during summer as high as 100 degrees F., often for several or more days in a row. Low temperatures during the winter can range as far as the single digits, but these “cold snaps” are rare and short-lived.
Rainfall varies across the county. Its easternmost area, in the vicinity of Honobia and north of Cloudy, receives approximately 52 inches of rain per year. Its western portions receive approximately 46 inches per year.
Snow is a rare event, and is almost never deeper than one inch. What snow falls generally melts within a day. Ice is a more frequent occurrence, sometimes breaking tree branches and downing power lines.
Tornado season ranges from approximately April to September each year. Pushmataha County experiences powerful storms each year. A tornado striking Antlers in April 1945 devastated the town and killed 69 residents. Meteorologists now believe it to have been the most powerful category of tornado possible, and the 32nd most devastating tornado in U.S. history. Modern-day residents are protected by a civil defense system consisting of “storm spotters” stationed throughout the populated areas during threatening weather, observing the skies for signs of rotations or funnels. In Antlers a system of three public-alert sirens sounds the alarm when a funnel is spotted, allowing residents to seek shelter.
During recent decades the county has experienced unstable weather patterns. It is currently in the midst of a multi-year drought, at least as measured by local standards. Rainfall has been much below average during this time.
As of the census of 2000, there were 11,667 people, 4,739 households, and 3,288 families residing in the county. The population density was 3/km² (8/mi²). There were 5,795 housing units at an average density of 2/km² (4/mi²). The racial makeup of the county was 77.97% White, 0.82% Black or African American, 15.59% Native American, 0.10% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 0.29% from other races, and 5.16% from two or more races. 1.64% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 96.2% spoke English, 1.7% Spanish and 1.6% Choctaw as their first language. There were 4,739 households out of which 30.20% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 55.30% were married couples living together, 10.80% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.60% were non-families. 27.90% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.20% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.42 and the average family size was 2.94.
In the county, the population was spread out with 26.00% under the age of 18, 6.60% from 18 to 24, 24.00% from 25 to 44, 25.20% from 45 to 64, and 18.30% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 92.50 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.40 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $22,127, and the median income for a family was $27,808. Males had a median income of $25,509 versus $17,473 for females. The per capita income for the county was $12,864. About 18.80% of families and 23.20% of the population were below the poverty line, including 28.70% of those under age 18 and 19.40% of those age 65 or over.
|Voter Registration and Party Enrollment as of January 15, 2012|
|Party||Number of Voters||Percentage|
|2008||71.72% 3,208||28.28% 1,265|
|2004||59.68% 2,863||40.32% 1,934|
|2000||53.61% 2,331||45.29% 1,969|
Cities and towns
The following sites in Pushmataha County are listed on the National Register of Historic Places:
- Albion State Bank, Albion
- Antlers Frisco Depot and Antlers Spring, Antlers
- Choctaw Capitol Building, Tuskahoma
- Clayton High School Auditorium, Clayton
- Fewell School, Nashoba
- Mato Kosyk House, Albion
- Snow School, Snow
In 1984 a growing awareness of the county's rich history—encompassed by these and other historic sites—and the fact its legacy was becoming endangered—prompted a group of Antlers residents to found the Pushmataha County Historical Society. The society's first project was a successful initiative to obtain and preserve the Antlers Frisco Depot. It later completed a large-scale inventory of county cemeteries, and has undertaken numerous other projects since.
A significant historical site is also located atop Big Mountain, north of Moyers and east of Kosoma. During World War II two aircraft flown by British pilots from a Royal Air Force base in Texas crashed in poor weather into White Rock Mountain and Big Mountain, killing four crewmen. In 2000 the AT6 Monument was dedicated in their memory at the crash site on Big Mountain, to international acclaim.
- Eugene M. Bradley - namesake of Bradley International Airport
- Nicole DeHuff - actress
- Tobias W. Frazier - Choctaw Code Talker
- Mato Kosyk - poet
- Charles C. Stephenson, Jr. - energy company CEO
- Kings of Leon, rock band
- CensusViewer:Population of Pushmataha County, Oklahoma.
- "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
- John W. Morris, Boundaries of Oklahoma, pp. 4 & 14
- Claudette Marie Gilbert and Robert L. Brooks,From Mounds to Mammoths—A Field Guide to Oklahoma Prehistory, page 74.
- Goins, Historical Atlas of Oklahoma, p. 13; William H. Goetzmann and Glyndwr Williams, Atlas of North American Exploration, pp. 92-93.
- Thomas Nuttall, A Journal of Travels into the Arkansas Territory During the Year 1819, pp. 163-177; Goins, Historical Atlas, p. 16.
- John W. Morris, Boundaries of Oklahoma, p. 27.
- Odie B. Faulk, Kenny A. Franks, and Paul F. Lambert, Early Military Forts and Posts in Oklahoma, pp. 3, 9-11.
- Morris, John, Charles R. Goins, and Edwin C. McReynolds. Historical Atlas of Oklahoma, plate 38. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986.
- Amos D. Maxwell, The Sequoyah Constitutional Convention, pp. 60-61; Plate 56, Historical Atlas of Oklahoma.
- Morris, Historical Atlas, Plate 56.
- Angie Debo, Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic, p. 222.
- "Choctaw Code Talkers", Oklahoma Today, July–August 1988; "Choctaw Tongue Proved Too Tough for Germans", Antlers American, March 5, 1966. For full information on the Code Talkers see the unpublished compilation of research by the school students of Rattan, Oklahoma, on file in the school library and the Pushmataha County Historical Society.
- Steve Burge, "Pushmataha Wildlife Management Area", Outdoor Oklahoma, May–June 2006, pp. 38-41.
- William T. Chambers, "Shopping Areas of the Near Southwest", Economic Geography, April 1941, p. 128.
- Morris, Historical Atlas of Oklahoma, Plate 7.
- Howard L. Johnson and Claude E. Duchon, Atlas of Oklahoma Climate. p. 24.
- Thomas P. Grazulis. Tornado—Nature’s Ultimate Windstorm, p. 292.
- "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
- "Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections". Retrieved 2011-06-11.
- Unpublished history of the Pushmataha County Historical Society, on file in the society.